Tag Archives: Switzerland

Slide season

2014-01-08 17_35_50-SLF _ Avalanche bulletinsIt’s been a grim start of the winter here in Switzerland – at least avalanche-wise. 12 fatalities so far, and it’s not even mid-january (the previous season claimed 22 lives in Switzerland).

The reason for the unusually high number of avalanche accidents is a weak layer buried in the snow. This layer can be found pretty much all across Switzerland, but it’s weaker in the southeast and southwest of Switzerland than in the central regions (according to what I’ve read).

There have been so many articles and blogs written about the situation that I’ve lost count. There’s advice to get an avalanche airbag, and some are just urging skiers/snowboarders to simply not go off the groomed piste.

In my opinion, these are far to simplified solutions to a very complex problem. Why do people venture into dangerous terrain when the danger level is 4? I think it’s another example of what I’d like to call  the “I’ve been here before”-problem. The human brain is simply incapable of believing something it has not experienced. Which means that the better you know a certain mountain or line, the more deadly it is, as your brain will have a harder time understanding the potential danger.

Weather-wise, these are strange times. We talk about “global weirding” as opposed to “global warming”. The weather is becoming more violent, freezing levels fluctuate more, winds grow stronger. We see a lot of “I’ve never seen an avalanche here before” situations.

In this respect, I’m at an advantage as I don’t know the Swiss mountains that well yet. I study maps and the avalanche report. I stay well within the margins. I am humbled by these giants. The folks who grew up here and have skied these mountains for ages – maybe not so much.

So, I urge you to throw your outdated rule book out the window and look at the mountains with new eyes. Times they are a-changing, and we need to change our behavior accordingly.

Do not, however, stay indoor. Fun can still be had on mellower slopes. Staying well below the treeline will offer protection from some types of avalanches. It is conditions like these that force us to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing snow conditions, and that can be a good thing. Spend your money on avalanche training instead of new equipment this season. Read maps and snow reports. Go with people you trust and who have the same risk profile as you do.

http://www.thelocal.ch/20140103/avalanches-claim-seven-lives-in-one-week

http://swissalpineadventure.blogspot.ch/2014/01/dangerous-games.html

 

Snowday #7, Pazola Stock, Oberalppass

I’ve been trying to find good snow and good weather all weekend, without luck. After a foggy day at Grand St Bernard I decided to just head towards Andermatt on Sunday night. The forecast was optimistic for Monday; sunny – though with a fair bit of wind. Sleeping in my car Sunday night the wind was howling. Not a good sign, but I decided to at least head up to Oberalppass and have a look. Lots of fresh snow and huge amounts of wind is never a good sign when venturing into the mountains, especially alone like I was.

On a side note, I have the feeling that they’re used to quite bad weather in the Oberalppass. They have their own working lighthouse up there, for instance…

Clearing up
Lower part of the bowl. And my finger.

The forecast said it was going to start getting sunny at 9-10, so I arrived at 0850 and was met by a blizzard. I actually skinned up in the waiting room at the station. Following the remains of some skintrack from a few days before I (very cautiously) made my way up from the station via the west side of the Pazola Stock. At times I simply had to stop, visibility was practically zero. Not a good thing when you don’t know the mountain except for having looked at it on a map. Luckily it started clearing up, though the wind was not going anywhere. By the time I made it to the SE ridge under the peak, it was actually quite pleasant, even the wind was less of a problem. I literally stumbled upon the massive bowl that essentially forms the S face of the mountain and couldn’t resist it. It had tons more snow than the rock-jagged west face I was planning to ride. I decided to ride it from the ridge, as summiting would have either forced me to skin up the S side, which was loaded with wind-transported snow – or bootpacking the ridge, which I didn’t feel like doing in heave wind with a huge snowboard on my back acting as a sail. From the ridge where I stopped there’s another 190m of vertical to the peak.

The south face is simply made for snowboarding. Lots of microterrain, lots of features, windlips, stuff to play on. I knew that I had to cross the bowl to make my way out on the skiers right side without getting into heavy terrain, so from where I entered it became a bit of a traverse, but still. Insane terrain. The snow was as perfect as you can expect, the wind having done very little damage inside the bowl. I simply rode down to the winter-closed road and switched to ski-mode. Without too much effort I could slide down to the village south of the Oberalppass and catch the train back to Andermatt from there.

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Waiting for the train. Getting some tan.

Bowl visible in the background

All in all, a super-nice day!

2013-11-25 22_39_07-Tour Guide

 

Shark day at Flüela Pass

I found this blog with a bunch of tips on mountains to hit during the early-early season. Since I hadn’t been to Davos yet, I set the alarm for 0600, woke up 45 minutes later and was on my way.

The Flüela Pass is a mountain road which usually closes before Christmas. It’s not of any practical use anyway, after a new tunnel was built in 1999. For splitboarders, it’s really too bad. The Flüela valley offers tons and tons of wicked-looking descents – feels a bit like the Duffey Lake road above Pemberton, B.C. Only with more stuff in it.

In any case, I drove through it and couldn’t resist parking by an existing skin track to make my day easy. The goal was the Schwarzhorn (3146), but I didn’t really plan on sumitting. I’m simply not in the best of shapes yet, and the high altitude is really noticeable. So, I simply followed the skin track up from the road, and entered this valley with a whole range of options – later in the season. Unfortunately, there was simply not enough snow yet. This was going to be a very sharky day, and my board wasn’t going to like it one bit.

The skintrack I followed went through the valley on the SW side of the Schwarzhorn, and then up almost directly S of the peak, in a little col between the Schwarzhorn and the Schroarzhornfugga (rolls of your tongue). I decided to head left and explore the south face of the Schroarzhornfugga, but the top was just way to rocky. I had to transition to snowboarding mode on a little platform well beneath the peak.

The terrain in the valley is made for snowboarding, though. Lots and lots of microterrain and stuff to have fun on. Give this place one or two more dumps and will be heaven. In the meantime, I need to find a place to get my banged-up splitboard some TLC.

Looking east at Engadin valley

Here’s a little video from the past 2 days. You can watch in HD here:

Snowday #2 – Bunny hill splitboarding at Oberalppass, Andermatt

Nice day. Left Zurich at around 0900, heading for Andermatt. The drive was just beautiful, by the way. Green down low, white up top. Pretty-pretty!

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The plan was to drive up to Oberalppass, but the road was closed just above Andermatt, because of all the snow (good sign). No worries, there are trains running every hour. I didn’t have time to pay the parking fee at the station, and learned that the penalty is CHF 10, which can be paid at the ticket office (now you know!).

Arriving at the Oberalppass station I had kinda expected there to be a bunch of skiers and snowboarders on their way up, but it was completely deserted. Just me and the train station dude. And tons of snow. I could actually put on skins on at the train station and just go from there. I’m guessing there was about 50cm of fresh on the valley floor. The wind must have been howling though, as ridges were either bare or iced over.

The plan was to do Pazolastock on the west side of the pass, but there was too much rock for my taste, which would have forced me into some chutes that were just begging to release snow. I decided to let it settle for a few days, and in the meantime did a mellow run on the east side of the valley. Not particularly exciting riding, but a least a nice little workout.

Lots of “whoomps” going up, so staying safe was definetely the right call – the wind has simply moved incredible amounts of snow.

In any case, staying off the ridges there was still a faceshot or two to be had, not bad for a Monday!

SAM_0171 Oberalpsee from the train

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